SANTA BARBARA, Cal. -- The sharp eyes of army and navy fliers and the keen ears of navy submarine detectors aboard surface vessels coursed a widening area of the Pacific today in a search for the submarine which shelled an oil refinery while President Roosevelt was addressing the nation last night.
The shelling, which caused little damage and no casualties, was from the two-five-inch guns aboard the submarine, presumably Japanese. Twenty-five rounds were fired at the Bankline oil refinery near Elwood, 12 miles west of Santa Barbara, according to a war department announcement from Washington.
From a position about one-quarter mile off shore, the submarine began firing at 7:20 p.m., Pacific War Time (10:20 EWT) and maintained its fire at intervals for about 25 minutes. Observers who watched it from shore in the twilight said it remained on the surface until after dark. They described it as very large.
An hour after the attack the observers reported they saw flares above Santa Barbara channel. The Ventura county sheriff's office also said fires were seen near Hueneme, south of Santa Barbara. The Los Angeles FBI said it was not investigating these reports. It was presumed the flares were dropped by aircraft searching for the submarine.
It was the first attack on the United States mainland since 1918, when a German U-boat lobbed shells at a Cape Cod objective with similarly trifling results.
An official communique of the 11th naval district revealed that the refinery of the Bankline Oil company of Elwood and the adjoining coastal oil field were its targets. It also revealed that the damage was slight.
The communique quoted the account of F.W. Borden, superintendent of the company as follows:
"At 7:10 p.m., one large submarine came to the surface about one mile offshore and fired approximately 15 shells from a deck gun.
"One direct hit was registered on a well, causing minor damage to the pumping unit and the derrick. There were several close misses on a crude oil storage tank and a gasoline tank.
"Apparently no damage was caused by these shells. A complete survey of the ground has not yet been made and there may be superficial damage. Whatever other damage is discovered will not be extensive.
"No fires were started as a result of the firing. No tanks were hit. From fragments of shell found and marks on the ground it is believed a four or five inch gun was used. The firing was done leisurely, apparently only one gun being used. It required 25 minutes to fire the shells."
The shelling came at the end of a day marked by the forced evacuation of Japanese aliens from Terminal island in Los Angeles harbor and other strategic California areas where fifth column activities have been feared.
It was followed by a black-out which went into effect at 8 p.m. (11 p.m. EWT) 25 minutes after the last shell was fired. The black-out extended along the coast from Santa Barbara to Ventura, 30 miles to the southeast and was not lifted until 12:10 a.m. today (3:10 a.m. EWT). A number of Japanese aliens and Japanese-American citizens were found wandering in the black-out in Ventura and were arrested.
Police said two of those arrested were armed and were cruising in a blacked out station wagon. The men admitted visiting the Goleta area earlier, police said. No charge was filed against them.
Radio stations went off the air during the black-out. Their broadcasting of President Roosevelt's war report to the nation was not interrupted.
It was suggested by persons familiar with Japanese psychology that the captain of the submarine had deliberately chosen the time when the president was speaking to shell the coast. The speech had been widely advertised by radio yesterday and the submarine's officers undoubtedly knew of it.
A connection between the shelling and the German submarine activities against tankers and oil refineries on and around the Dutch island of Aruba in the Caribbean also was seen. A pre-arranged schedule of attacks against the American oil supplies of the United Nations seemed apparent.
It was the first report of Japanese submarine activity along the coast since Christmas day when an army bomber blew a Japanese submarine to bits.